Now that the Chilean miners have been rescued after being trapped underground for months the limelight will begin to shift to the men who rescued them. Two were from a company in Colorado. Jeff Hart was called away from drilling for water in Afghanistan and stayed at the controls for nearly 33 straight days until he broke through to the men far below.
There were NASA doctors, whose forte was experience in treating men in confined, isolated conditions. “And the design of the rescue pod is the brainchild of NASA engineer Clinton Cragg. Cragg drew on his experience as a former submarine captain in the Navy and directed a team of 20 to conceive of a small 13- foot-long tube to carry the miners one at a time to the surface.”
Their dramatic efforts recall events 80 years ago, when another team made an unprecedented effort to bring rescue other men who would normally been given up for lost. Coincidentally, they were also 33 in number. And it also involved the use of a novel pod. The rescue of the crew of USS Squalus in the first successful use of a rescue chamber developed by Charles “Swede” Momsen. It was as dramatic in its own way as the Chilean rescue.
The Squalus sank in 240 feet of water off the Isle of Shoals. The trapped crew floated a red flare to the surface to signal for help, which brought salvage ships to a surface buoy they would not otherwise have found. “This position was 4-3/4 miles to the westward from the reported diving position of the SQUALUS and in nearly the opposite direction from her reported diving course.”
“What is your trouble?” the rescuers asked over the buoy telephone line. But no sooner had Captain Naquin come on the line to request air hoses to blow the water out of his flooded boat than the line parted. Without a line to lead them down to the stricken submarine the rescuers dragged the sea bottom with anchors to find the Squalus. Just then, in a moment to rank with Hart’s call to come to Chile, a four man team belonging to the Navy’s Experimental Diving Unit, got a call in Washington DC to bring their rescue chamber, which if it could be attached to the Squalus, might rescue the men trapped within.
But a line had to be run down to the Squalus first. Possibly the most crucial act was the attachment by a salvage diver of a cable to guide the rescue chamber down.
At 1014, the first diver, Martin C. Sibitzky, B.M. 1c, USN, was put over the side, reporting himself on the deck of the SQUALUS at 1017. The descending line used was the buoy line which had been attached to the drag anchor by the PENACOOK, and this line was fortunately discovered by the diver to be only about 6 feet aft of the forward torpedo room hatch, leading over the port rail near the stub mast. At 1028 the rescue chamber downhaul wire was shackled to the descending line and lowered to the diver, who shackled it to the hatch at 1039, and started coming up, being placed in the decompression chamber at 1124.
The extremely skillful work of this first diver resulted in marked expedition of the whole rescue operation and contributed greatly to its ultimate success. In addition to shackling on the downhaul wire it was necessary for him to clear the bight of the marker buoy line, which lay across the hatch, and was still fouled somewhere over the side. Had this buoy line been allowed to remain, it would have endangered rescue chamber operations by possibly fouling the downhaul or preventing a tight seal on the hatch.
Like the Chilean miners, the sailors had to be rescued in shifts. The captain came up last. Then came the excruciating decision to end the rescue, a move which required ascertaining that no one was alive in the flooded after torpedo room. The only way to do was to try and attach the rescue chamber to the torpedo room. Again, divers were sent down. How great was the risk is shown by what happened next. “The first and second divers sent down failed to attach the wire due to fouling of lines and great depth of water, but the third diver was successful at 1602 and was back in the decompression chamber at 1657.”
At 1719 the rescue chamber commenced descent, and at 1745 reached the submarine. It was necessary in this operation to equalize the pressure in the chamber with that of the sea in order to enable the submarine hatch to be opened without flooding the chamber. This was done, and upon cracking the submarine hatch, water commenced to flood into the chamber from the torpedo room, proving that the after torpedo room was flooded. The submarine hatch was secured, and the rescue chamber started up, using the usual decompression schedule during the ascent because the operators had been subjected to full sea pressure. At 2107 the rescue chamber was landed on deck. Badders, W., C.M.M., U.S.N., was in charge of the chamber in this operation, and Mihalowski, J., T.M.1c. was his assistant. These men were fully aware of the great danger involved. If they became incapacitated, there was no way in which they could be rescued, as the chamber could not be entered from the outside. Considering all facts, it is felt that these men accepted the greatest personal risk of any during the entire rescue operations, and performed their duties in accordance with the highest traditions of the service.
For their extraordinary efforts in the rescue four Navy divers were awarded the Medal of Honor, William Baddars, Orson Crandall, James McDonald and John Mihalowski.
Captain Naquin died in 1989. On his gravestone at Arlington are a testimonial to the other heroes, the crew of the Squalus itself. In those hours of waiting, they behaved as some men do on the edge of extinction; as if some strange and luminous person were ready to emerge from the fragile human breast.
My Officers And Men Acted Instinctively And Calmly. There Were No Expressions Of Fear And No Complains Of The Bitter Cold. Never In My Remaining Life Do I Expect To Witness So True An Exemplification Of Comradeship And Brotherly Love. No Fuller Meaning Could Possibly Be Given The Word ‘Shipmate’ Than Was Reflected By Their Acts.